Elizabeth Warren stood at the door of the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center in Roxbury yesterday, greeting hundreds of volunteers individually, looking a little like a minister after a church service.
As she thanked the volunteers for coming out on a brilliant fall Sunday, many mentioned campaigns they had worked in previously. Others said this was the first political event they had attended. The scene was in stark contrast to the last image I’d had of Warren. That was Friday, in a GOP attack group’s ad blaming her for drug use and wanton violence in the Occupy Wall Street movement.
The length of the line yesterday was remarkable; 1,000 people showed up to pledge their support in an election still a year away. The event was part pep rally and part grass-roots training session.
Once she reached the podium, Warren recited her increasingly familiar rise from poverty to the faculty of Harvard. She talked about her frustration in Washington in attempting to found a consumer protection bureau. She described the agency as “strong,’’ which it isn’t. Her performance was workmanlike, as opposed to electrifying, but for this adoring crowd that was plenty.
It’s hard to remember a Senate race that reached this level of intensity so soon. Several factors have contributed to that: basic partisanship, grass-roots Democratic contempt for incumbent Scott Brown, and, not least, the appeal of Warren, an intriguing combination of novelty and intellectual heft.
Warren paid plenty of obeisance to the traditional Democratic base, with shout-outs to unions, public colleges, and teachers. She is an unabashed New Dealer who raved about the GI Bill. She waxed nostalgic. “I grew up in an America that was still investing in kids like me,’’ she said. “That’s an America that’s changed, and that’s why I’m in this race.’’
She framed the campaign as a battle between the selfish and those who want a better future for the country. The Republicans seem to view it as a battle between a candidate who proudly supports class warfare and a regular guy who will occasionally vote against the leaders of his party, most of whom couldn’t get elected to a town meeting in Massachusetts.
If the Crossroads ad is any indication, the GOP believes the playbook that worked against Attorney General Martha Coakley can win again. In her 2010 special election loss to Brown, she was demonized as an insider who was too cozy with lobbyists.
Warren, they seem to figure, can be just as easily painted as an out-of-touch liberal who hates Wall Street and has never created a job.
Brown has never created a job either. More importantly, assuming the next campaign will be much like the last is often a losing strategy. If nothing else, Warren is certainly a more energetic campaigner that her predecessor.
Recruiting volunteers early has become commonplace since Governor Deval Patrick rode his grass-roots strategy to victory in 2006. But Warren (and Patrick) advisor Doug Rubin reminded me yesterday that when Patrick began to hold such sessions, he was usually speaking to audiences of 10 or 12 people, not 1,000.
Those who like contrast between candidates will surely find it in this race. Brown talks and thinks in terms of practicality and expedience; Warren gives lectures on economic history and talks about our commitment to future generations. Indeed, Warren’s biggest weakness may be that her big political idea - a consumer protection bureaucracy - has been so effortlessly thwarted by the Republicans who ran her out of Washington.
But clearly the faithful do not hold that against her. “America has a choice,’’ she told them. “We can be a country that says ‘I got mine, you’re on your own’ or we can be a country that builds for the future.’’
Roxbury was enraptured.